Sceau Royal ran out an impressive winner of the Welsh Champion Hurdle when last in action, so can follow-up in the Grade 2 Elite Hurdle at Wincanton this Saturday (15:00).
Trained by Alan King for Simon Munir and Isaac Souede, this eight-year-old tops ratings for the race this year. He also gets into the Elite Hurdle without a penalty, putting terms firmly in his favour.
Despite a strong challenge from the in-form Paul Nicholls stable here, Sceau Royal is race-fit. The way he ran on at Ffos Las suggests there are still graded contests he can win.
Main market rival Solo steps into open company for the first time. Although a four-year-old landed the Elite Hurdle 12 months ago, it is big ask for him to give weight to Sceau Royal.
For that reason, the Doctor Dino gelding is the clear pick. Side with Sceau Royal at 6/5 with William Hill for Elite Hurdle glory.
Nicholls treble tempting at Wincanton
Ditcheat maestro Nicholls has plenty of other strong chances on this Wincanton card, however. In the novice hurdle over an extended 1m 7f (13:15), Flic Ou Voyou can complete his hat-trick despite a double penalty.
This six-year-old by Kapgrade has really stepped up this autumn, showing the benefit of previous hurdle experience. Nicholls kept his novice status for this season specifically to farm races of this nature and duly been rewarded with Chepstow and Newton Abbot.
The odds on offer about Flic Ou Voyou with bookmakers will reflect that, however, so it make sense to put him in a multiple with others from the stable.
In the extended 2m 5f Richard Barber Memorial Mares’ Handicap Hurdle (13:50), course and distance winner Cill Anna looks well worth siding with. The form of her Wincanton victory in January has worked out well with the second and third home both winning their next start.
Cill Anna also stepped up in trip and class, landing a Listed contest over 3m at Doncaster on her final start of last season. With new stable companion Eglantine Du Seuil framing the handicap here, she also gets in off a nice racing weight of 11st.
A five-year-old daughter of Imperial Monarch, Cill Anna makes her handicap debut off 135. That may well underestimate her ability and she looks a free bet each-way at 5/1 with William Hill who pay four places.
Completing the Nicholls Wincanton treble is Grand Sancy in the Grade 2 Rising Stars Novices’ Chase (14:25). The extended 2m 5f contest looks much easier with If The Cap Fits not taking up his engagement in it.
On official ratings, Grand Sancy has 10lb and upwards in hand on just two rivals. He can give weight all-round and his greater experience of fences should prove the difference.
Mr Scrumpy the Pertemps punt
At Aintree, meanwhile, there is another Pertemps Qualifier (13:35) in which the progressive Mr Scrumpy looks an intriguing contender. Trained by Jedd O’Keeffe, the six-year-old has a good record at other left-handed tracks like Newcastle and Wetherby.
Mr Scrumpy showed a really likable attitude to win over the 3m trip at the latter last time out. While the handicapper has put him up 3lb for a half-length victory, there could still be more to come.
Although the stable’s flag bearer, Sam Spinner, disappointed when pulled up in the Charlie Hall Chase last weekend, there is hope as the yard had a winner in midweek.
As Mr Scrumpy also faces a number of badly handicapped older horses on Merseyside, it would be no surprise if he made the frame. He remains unexposed at this distance, again unlike a number of rivals, so is well worth considering.
Thomas Darby can make winning return
In the feature 2m 4f hurdle (14:40), ratings topper Thomas Darby has claims on the pick of his form. Trained by Olly Murphy for Diana Whateley, this seven-year-old by Beneficial plundered a Grade 3 handicap at Ascot just before Christmas on his return to this sphere.
Connections weren’t happy with how his chasing career was panning out. Murphy gave Thomas Darby the aim of the Aintree Hurdle in the spring, but the whole Grand National Festival didn’t happy.
As this contest is over that course and distance, they may be looking to make up for lost time. If Thomas Darby runs up to his fine second in the 2019 Supreme Novices’ Hurdle, then he should have enough for his five rivals here.
Summerville Boy and Call Me Lord have not been the most straightforward. That’s why Thomas Darby gets our vote to take this en route to better things.